When people defend state violence, they do so because they believe that it keeps them safe. I recognize this, and I’m glad we have police. I feel much safer knowing that they are there.
However, as we have seen in the many protests across the country in response to police shootings of unarmed black men, women, and boys, many people of color do not feel safe around police. They do not feel protected; they feel afraid, harassed, mistreated, in danger.
The rally cry has become “Black Lives Matter,” and in response, some have felt compelled to reply “All Lives Matter.” The issue, however, is not that anyone is proposing that other people’s lives do not matter. Of course everyone’s’ lives matter — including the lives of police officers. The “Black Lives Matter” slogan draws attention to the fact that, in our country, people of color — and in particular black males — are systematically treated as if their lives do not matter.
As Christians we should recognize the language of black lives matter. After all, Jesus did not say “blessed is everyone,” but “blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20). He did not say “as you do it unto everyone, you do it unto me,” but “as you do it unto the least” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus did not say “love everyone,” but “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
Continually Jesus drew our attention not to loving people “in general” but to specifically caring for those we would tend to discount or condemn. Black lives matter is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would say.
Why did Jesus have this emphasis, and why should we? Because then as now, there are people who were marginalized, condemned, and shut out of the system, and the hallmark of Jesus’ mission and ministry is all about drawing our attention to them. It has to do with empathy for the “other,” for the one we would normally regard the “least.”
This is not an issue peripheral to the gospel, or a matter of a few isolated proof texts. It is at the very heart of Jesus’ ministry and mission.
That’s why it’s so important that those of us who are part of the privileged class learn to listen to and to believe those in our society who are typically denied a voice when they tell us about their experiences of mistreatment. We need to hear when they tell us “I can’t breathe,” both metaphorically and, all too often, literally.
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